Teaching Online — Basic Tips for Teachers


In any class it is important to facilitate student interaction, but it is even more important in an online environment where the students can more easily distance themselves from the attention of the instructor.  Given this, instructors need to make even more efforts to facilitate interaction.

Instructors should think to themselves — How can I build a relationship with my students and how can I do that in an online environment? If you already have that relationship with your students, think about how it might change in an online environment and how you will address those changes.

And remember that some students may be taking their very first online course and may not be familiar with learning in this environment. Students may also have a number of personal distractions at home than they don’t have at school.

Generally, student interaction in an online environment will improve over time, but instructors should be prepared for (and should not be alarmed by) more limited instruction in the first few course sessions.

The students will want feedback and they will have questions, but the online environment may be “disorienting” to them, so instructors will need to work to increase student comfort and realize that the students will have some needs that are similar to other students’ needs.

Welcome Messages

Often, students will not receive any messages directly from the instructor until the course begins. If the instructor sends a message to the students beforehand, however, it will help facilitate interaction.

Keep Messages Short

The simple reality is that today people do not read long emails and messages. If instructors want students to read something, they need to keep it short and to the point.


Instructors should also be aware that students can become easily distracted in an online environment. While taking an online course students may receive emails, text messages, social media messages, and even can be distracted by happenings in their own homes  and/or dormitories. These distractions are difficult to prevent, but instructors need to be aware that they are present.

Learn the software

Learning Management System (LMS) software all has different features, but there are many similarities. Given the similarities, instructors may be tempted to to assume they know how to use any LMS.  Instructors, however, should do their best to test the LMS software before the courses start so that the classes go smoothly.

Use emoticons

The reality is that in today’s world people are used to communicating with emoticons. There is no reason not to use them in your class.

Keep email subject short

People get inundated with emails and they need to keep the subject lines short.

Take breaks

Modern classrooms are very interactive and focused on students engaging in a lot of activities. Online instruction is more teacher driven.  Given this, it is important for the teacher to give the students breaks. Breaks will also encourage students to attend to any distracting messages during that time rather than during class time.

Take notes

Ask for frequent feedback

Have you noticed that students are not participating? Are some students frequently late? Do some students appear to not be making an effort? These notes will help you provide critical feedback and help get students back on track.

Many companies and instructors are focused on providing constant feedback for students.  While this is valuable, it is also important for instructors to get feedback from students. This will enable you to continue to adapt your courses to students when they are the most valuable.

Test the wireless connection

Most online instruction occurs over wireless but the wireless signal in a home or office may vary in different places.  Instructors may not realize this because they are generally just using their wireless for more simple tasks such as email and text.  Online instruction however involves audio and video, creating more demands on wireless.  To test wireless, instructors should try longer conversations with friends on software such as Skype or Google video to test out the strength and reliability of wireless signals.

Think of the broader audience

Technology has changed the world of education in many ways. In any given live class, students may be recording teachers and sharing videos online. In an online environment,however, it is even easier for teachers to be seen by others — by parents in homes and by students who are recording their instructional session.  Given this, instructors need to be cognizant not only of how they come across to students but also to a potentially broader audience.

Adapt the materials

Most online course companies will provide instructors with teaching materials.  While some companies require instructors to use the materials exactly has presented, we (GAC Online) encourage you to modify your teaching materials in order that you can teach the content in a way that is familiar and comprehensible to you.

Sell yourself and your content

When teaching in any context, and especially online, it is important that instructors sell themselves and the content they are teaching to the students.  Generally, students who are taking classes from online instructors will not know the instructors, and this is magnified when the instructors are overseas, so it is very important that instructors sell themselves and their confidence in their content well.

Have a lot of material prepared

The pacing of an online class can vary, and unlike a live class, instructors cannot simply give students time to “work on their own”/do their homework. It is always better to have material prepared that is not used than to not have enough material to fill the class time.

Instructors also need to be prepared to talk more in the event that facilitating student interaction fails.

Track ideas for improvement

As you are teaching you will likely encounter ideas for improvement. You should keep a log of those ideas and try using them in your next courses. You may even be able to implement some of them immediately.